“After so many years struggling to keep up with you, I finally realized we’re not even running the same race.” ― Scott Stabile
My first “real” job consisted of cutting fruit. Lots of fruit. Sometimes for six plus hours all I would do is cut fruit. Honey Dew, Cantaloupe, and Watermelon were my main stays, the fruit I could always count on to be there for me waiting for me to relieve it from its rind.
Over the next few years, I had many jobs in kitchens and nearly all of them required my refined skill of fruit cutting. I logged hundreds of hours working my way through cases and cases of whole fruit. With each case, I became a little better. I don’t mean to brag but as far as fruit cutting goes, I was one of the best.
In Culinary school my fruit cutting abilities were challenged with contests of beauty and skill. Suddenly, I was no longer the best as I had only ever cut fruit for people to eat. I struggled my way through making Cantaloupe Swans and Watermelon Baskets. I became embarrassed by my lack of skill and started to miss the days of being the top fruit slinger.
By the time I graduated Culinary School my fruit creations were good enough. The days of plowing through cases of fruit in preparation for Sunday brunch felt far away and what was in front of me promised opportunities to create beautiful fruit centerpieces and platters. My creations were not the best, but they were far from being the worst.
Then I started to work in Banquets and while my duties were now more refined and did not require hours of cutting fruit, I wasn’t immune to it as staffing in a kitchen has and probably will always be an issue. The surprise task of cutting fruit would generally come as I was getting ready to leave for the day and realized it needed to be done for breakfast. Almost always, I would be one of the last ones in the kitchen when this realization occurred.
Once my professional life defined me as a “chef” instead of a “cook” my perception of fruit cutting changed with it. That task was below my talent level; we have prep cooks for that sort of thing. But as I quickly learned, no amount of ego or shame is going to solicit volunteers to cut fruit and, in the end, it’s the chef that gets blamed if it is not done.
After I had a talk with my ego and told it wasn’t in charge anymore, I was able to focus on the task at hand and cut fruit like the good old days. Since I was almost always alone when fruit was on the line, I was able to play loud music and sing loudly along with my favorite songs. I’d cut fruit late into the evening, but it would get done before morning.
As the years passed, so did my patience with fruit cutters. Out of frustration I had trained all the dishwashers to cut fruit and made it a steppingstone to becoming a cook. This worked for a while until egos would flair and jealously would erupt between the dishwashers when the workload was high, which inevitably would coincide with needing someone to cut fruit.
My skills as a professional fruit cutter became a tool for shaming others. “Look at how easy it is! Just do what I do!” I’d yell at a frustrated dishwasher who was just not cutting fruit fast enough to subdue my temper. It’s ironic how a task that took me hundreds of hours to master was warped by my ego into something that anyone should be able to pick up in a few hours.
A few years later, a knife slip while making a garnish for a fruit and veggie tray ended my culinary career. The knife severed the nerve to my left thumb, rendering me disabled, at least in the kitchen world. I have a very clear memory of returning to work after surgery and rehab and not being able to peel a potato; a task deemed well below fruit cutting on the kitchen totem pole.
With the kitchen in my rear-view mirror, my ego was deflated. I longed for my fruit cutting days where I could command my hands to preform, and they listened. With a bit of distance, I was able to see how silly my behavior had been and thought that fate had dealt a fair hand by taking away the use of mine. It’s been almost two decades since I injured my hand and have exceeded all expectations in regaining function of my thumb, although, it doesn’t listen to me all the time.
I’ve had a few instances over the last several years when someone has witnessed me cut a melon, usually at a kids’ birthday party or the like, and comment on how well and fast I can cut fruit. This seems like an insignificant thing but the nearly all the people in my life today did not know me when I was an egocentric chef and do not know about the injury in my hand or my plethora of fruit cutting experience. I usually shrug off the compliment and mutter something about how I used to work in a kitchen, as if I needed to justify my fruit cutting skills.
The truth is I’ve spent hundreds, perhaps even thousands of hours cutting fruit. I can carve a melon in the back of a catering van or balanced in-between two sinks. Even with the clunkiness of a bum hand, I can slice through a watermelon with ease and dare I say some grace. But they don’t know that. They only see a middle-aged woman who probably had some sort of career before having kids, dominate the melon like a boss and wonder why they can’t do the same.
Everyone has a story. Reasons why they are who they are and can do what they can do. The default thinking is that we all have the same starting point in life. It takes discipline of thought to understand people often start well outside the bounds of your understanding. Progress is not linear, and experience matters when it comes to defining skills.
It takes practice to share your full self, with all experience attached, without comparing yourself to others. It takes refinement of this practice to fully concede that comparing your insides to someone else’s outsides is a dangerous endeavor that will likely end in disappointment.
Today, I will stive to take things and people as they come without judgement. I will not compare my internal world with anyone’s external expressions. I will try to live in the sweet spot of middle of the herd where I am not better than or worse than any of my fellows. But I will offer to cut fruit at any event that requires a professional fruit cutter. 😊